Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Looking Back On Non-Conference Opponents

Now that most of Oakland's non-conference opponents have officially entered league play, we know a bit more about all of those teams than we did at the time they were played. For example, that big win over Ohio, the preseason favorite in the MAC, might not look so surprising a few months after it was played. The win over Austin Peay, on the other hand, is looking like a fairly strong win. In keeping with this theme, let's take a look back on each non-conference opponent.

(Note: RPI figures are current as of 1/4/11)

West Virginia (RPI: 12) 95-71 Loss
WVU has one of the best strength of schedules among all power conference teams, and that figure will probably only increase as the team makes its way through Big East play. The RPI will probably stay in the top 25 as well, which bodes well for Oakland down the road. Now with all of that said, we can't help but wonder how OU would have done against this team on any other night of the season. While the Mountaineers have avoided any Red Line upsets, they also haven't shot the ball anywhere close to how they did on opening night. The team's effective field goal percentage against Oakland was a whopping 60.3% while its season average is 51.8%. Oh, what could have been...

Ohio (RPI: 189) 78-66 Win
Entering the season, this looked like a heavyweight match-up of two defending conference champions picked to repeat. However, Oakland dismantled the Bobcats in the first half of the game and left Athens with a solid 12-point win. The problems ailing Ohio in that game have hung with them throughout an inconsistent non-conference season. The team has enough firepower to have a strong season in the MAC, especially as that league is shaping up to be as wide open as it has been in recent seasons. It's still a great win for Oakland both for real and symbolic reasons, and it will look even better if DJ Cooper and company can find a way to put some winning streaks together in January and February.

Purdue (RPI: 11 ) 82-67 Loss
Although SI.com's Seth Davis says to sell the Boilermaker stock, there's no doubt that the team's RPI will continue to be great whether or not the team is as well. That will help give Oakland's own RPI a nudge for the rest of the year and could come in handy if the Golden Grizzlies are able to secure an NCAA bid.

Wright State (RPI: 145) 82-79 Loss
The Raiders play their conference games in the Horizon League which currently has three teams in the top 100 for RPI and none lower than 245. Those are good measures as far as hoping the WSU RPI stays strong throughout the rest of the season. However, this was not an RPI game, and this loss is likely the one OU fans will point to as "the one that got away." It was one of five games where the Golden Grizzlies were out-rebounded by the opponent, a fact that stings considering the Raider frontcourt is rather light on size. It is what it is, but we can't help but harbor feelings of disappointment about this one.

Southern (RPI: 325) 105-53 Win
This was a thorough crushing of a team that has just one win on the season. While conference play should improve Southern's chances at picking up a few wins, it's RPI will likely hover in the 300s playing in the SWAC. After losing to WSU, this was exactly what Oakland needed to do to show it would not let a far inferior opponent hang around.

Austin Peay (RPI: 126) 78-70 OT Win
Surprisingly, the Ohio Valley conference as a whole does not have great statistical marks despite some firepower at the top in the form of Morehead State and Murray State. For their part, the Governors are carrying the conference banner right now with a 4-0 start in OVC play and a near upset of in-state Memphis. This is looking like a quality win for Oakland, especially if APSU is able to stay at the top of the OVC standings into late February. It was also a game where Keith Benson had his unbelievable 22/22/7/6 stat line and Reggie Hamilton hit a phenomenal banked-in triple to send the game into overtime.

Illinois (RPI: 28) 74-63 Loss
This was the game that started Oakland's brutal stretch of games against ranked teams in December. While the lasting legacy of the game is the women's ball fiasco, perhaps it should be remembered as the game where OU showed it could actually pull an upset, despite the losing effort. Oakland was in this game up until a tough second-half run sparked by All-American candidate Demetri McCamey, and even then OU hung around to keep the final score respectable. Illinois is a strong team with a couple of future professionals that will end up contending for the Big Ten title and a deep run in March. While the upset would have been something else, it was still a good game for Oakland.

Michigan State (RPI: 50) 77-76 Loss
The one that got people talking. It was an in-state battle held in Oakland County on a big stage, and thanks to a couple of Reggie Hamilton three-pointers in the last minute, the final margin of victory for MSU was just one point. That one point will be remembered by Golden Grizzlies fans for a long time, or at least until the team is able to put another scare into the Spartans in a future battle. The school that birthed Oakland may have gotten away with the victory, but it was as close as the former MSU-O had ever come to beating its former namesake. Woody Varner would have been proud.

Tennessee (RPI: 40) 89-82 Win
Until Oakland beats Michigan State, the upset of then seventh-ranked Tennessee will stand as the biggest non-conference win in program history. While UT hasn't exactly been stellar since folding to the Grizzlies, it's still a quality program that will more than likely end up in the NCAA Tournament come March (unless, that is, Bruce Pearl's absence hurts them in the first eight games of SEC play). The fact that the game came during finals week for most schools on a night where it was one of only two basketball games aired on the ESPN networks allowed Oakland to bask in the spotlight for a few days which helped to get the word out about the program and university. If there is a win like this every season, OU would certainly become a staple in the mid-major lexicon.

Michigan (RPI: 70) 69-51 Loss
The schedule caught up with Oakland when the team visited Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. Despite having a roster that on paper should have kept the game close, the Wolverines really controlled this game and ended any in-state hype about the OU program. The large group of Grizzly fans in attendance likely left Crisler Arena feeling down about the loss, and rightfully so. It's still too early to know whether or not Michigan will surprise folks in the Big Ten, but the early prognosis after losing handily to Purdue at home is that they'll have a hard time repeating their non-conference success in conference play. Considering Oakland hung with Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan State, one can't help but feel this was the year the team could have beaten Michigan.

Valparaiso (RPI: 73) 103-102 Loss
The Crusaders are poised to contend for a spot in the upper-echelon of the Horizon League this season despite an early setback to Butler. With that said and considering the history of the series, it's no surprise that Valpo came into the O'rena and put on an offensive show against OU. Oakland fared well offensively as well, but its defense was nonexistent so this one came down to Valpo having the better night from the field. With an RPI of 73, it's certainly not a bad loss for Oakland, but like the Wright State game, we can't help but feel a small sting in knowing the team went 0-2 against some of the Horizon League's better teams this season.

Ohio State (RPI: 19) 92-63 Loss
Coach Kampe recently said on his show on WXOU that Ohio State was the best team OU faced in the non-conference season, so chalk this one up as an RPI and strength of schedule win and forget about it. OSU is just too good, and the game came at the end of a stretch of games that severely drained the Golden Grizzlies.

Overall, Oakland finished non-conference play with a 5-8 record, with the win over non-DI Rochester College included. Perhaps most importantly, however, the team was tested by some of the best teams in the country and a few quality mid-major programs. We are already seeing the fruits of such scheduling in conference play as the team is off to a 4-0 start with two home games on the horizon. If the Golden Grizzlies are able to leave Sioux Falls with nets in their hands, then the solid RPI boosters as well as a win over Tennessee would help the team get its best seed yet in the NCAA Tournament. While that's far away and far from a given, it's still all one can ask of a non-conference schedule like this.

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